Life on the St. Lawrence River - An Oral History
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Picture Caption: Mary Adams in her home basement workshop at Akwesasne, after completing a four- tiered ash splint and sweetgrass "wedding cake basket,' 1992. [Martha Cooper photo, TAUNY Archives]

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MARY ADAMS

"How I Became the First Smuggler!"

We [brother John Jacobs at age 12, Mary at age 10] went out and by boat, row boat, we went across the river from Cornwall Island to St. Regis. When we got to other side, then he got out from the boat and he pushed the boat back to the river, two of us in a, in a boat. He says, 'Okay, my kids. You haveta go home now and take care of yourself. You have to work for living.' We got back to the house, when we took our father across the river. We got back and in the house and we both cryin' what're we gonna do. I said to John, Let's go in the basement and bring, and bring it up, the scraps we got left over, and now I'm gonna try to make basket. I started out that six inch sewing basket with the cover on with the sweet grass. I got done one and I took it down to my Grandma's, and I ask her, I says, Grandma, is my basket good enough to sell? She say, 'Yes, make a dozen of it.' So I went back to the house and we started, John and I. We work together, and we start to make basket. By Friday night, we got done one dozen Early Saturday morning, he says, he says, 'Mary, I take the baskets to Hogansburg to sell the basket, and you do the cleaning in the house.' So he took the basket across the river. He went to Hogansburg at MacKinnon's store. And he sell the basket and he don't get money for it. He has to trade it in what he got in the store. I told him what to buy, our basket, it was a dollar and a quarter a dozen dat time, the six inch. Yeah, yeah. But we don't, we don't trade it in, just what we, we wanta eat, specially da cookies. I says to John, John, buy me a, a pound of cookies. I told him, I says, if you get left over, get cigarettes. He says, 'Mary, what we gonna do with the cigarettes? We don't smoke.' I say, I know what you do with it. We took the cigarettes to Cornwall. I know the store where he used to sell the cigarette, my father. I used to go with him. I remember that. I got into the store. Lotta people in it. So I just stay on the side near the door, and I wait for them after they all go out. And that guy, store keeper he came to me. He says, 'What do you want?' I had little package. I open up and show him what I got. He took the package to the other room, and he came, he came back. I don't know. I think it was about a dollar and a quarter he have. He gave it to me and he took all the cigarettes. And I went outside to my brother waiting for me outside. I told him, I says, Look, that's how much money I got. He says, 'Mary, what do you say if we buy ice cream? We gonna have ice cream.' I says, Okay. I gave him the money and he went back to the store and he got the ice cream. The next week we started again for basket. We got two dozen, so we get more money. The same thing again, only he went to Hogansburg and sell the baskets. He traded in the cigarettes and we took that to Cornwall. I always say, I'm the first one to be smuggler [laughs]. That's the way we, we get the money.

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2001 Traditional Arts in Upstate New York